I am not a musician. (Thoughts from a student smack dab in the middle of an undergraduate music degree.)
I live in a world inundated by music. When I was accepted into college, music was the subject I committed to be absorbed with for four years. It's in my daily life - its components I continuously have to understand, memorize, and utilize. And the more I learn, the more I notice the music, and even sounds I hear on a regular basis, so I'm surrounded by it all the more. I notice its psychological and sociological impacts, and how those who create it have reacted to, or shifted, the course of history. It's a lot to take in. I wish the semesters were twice as long - it would give me more time to fully assimilate my new knowledge into how I see the world.
I have met many people who say music is their life; that it is the only way they can endure living in this world, and the only freedom they need to make them feel whole. I am not one of those people. And when I am dealing with something in my life, I don't necessarily run to write down some lyrics. Songwriting is not my only outlet. And although music has become one of my greatest passions, it is still only one of my many areas of interest. I can picture myself in a variety of different jobs or careers in the arts post-graduation - there is no one path that I feel would be solely the right one for me, so I'm excited to listen to God's voice as he calls me to the right road. Throughout my life I have explored many different types of art, such as photography, writing poetry, and drawing, and I desire to be involved in each of them in varying levels and at different times.
I recently learned that Joni Mitchell, famed singer/songwriter, also goes through phases with her art. She might only be able to paint for a few months, then might switch to only writing music for a while. Also, she was primarily a painter before her music made her a success. My first major form of self-expression in art was writing. I have many notebooks filled with lyrics and poems, and I've been journaling consistently since elementary school. In late middle school, I began writing the lyrics that would soon be transformed into my first songs, bolstered by my introduction to the radio through my first stereo, and the purchase of my first guitar. After my first year attending the Creation music festival in Pennsylvania, I was completely captivated by music. By high school, I thought I knew a good amount about it. I had no idea how wrong I was - these past two years, I've learned so much more about music than I ever imagined existed, and it's been an extremely exciting path.
Along the way, however, it's been a struggle not to fall into the pattern of college on auto-pilot - to simply focus in on what's written next in my academic planner, and to simply complete the requirements that are set out for me by others. On the other spectrum, it's just as easy to fall into obsession by hyper-focusing on my own efforts - having unrealistically high standards for my musicianship and feeling angry when they aren't achieved. At times, I have simply become caught up in what my professors or peers think is the best path to take, and have forgotten the true reason why I am getting an education, which is simple: it's completely up to me. I have the freedom to do what I believe is the most fulfilling option for me, and to reject the suggestions or opinions of others if I desire.
A mentor of mine recently offered up this bit of wisdom: "Academia crushes the artistic soul by trying to put it in a box. But you can learn to use the box you are placed in to your advantage." Because the nature of college is institutional, there is a default setting that is created for the average student. As college students, we can all too easily fall into line, even without realizing it. We forget how important it is to protect our passions in life. There are many people that will tell us what they think we are or what we should do, and that can veer us off the path we know we want for ourselves. Every activity that will require our precious time must be carefully evaluated, so we are assured we're doing things because our hearts desires them, and that it's the right time in our lives to pursue it. We must all develop a strong self-will and identity, even as it grows and expands with more experience and knowledge.
In the sense that I have the ability to create music, and enjoy the process of writing, recording, and performing it, I am what can be defined as a musician. But that does not mean that that is the only thing I can or want to do. I could write songs because I feel pressured into doing so. I could live in that head space, but I don't want to. Even if someone in the audience doesn't like my songs, I can be at peace with it. I don't have to worry, because I am not defined by what people say I am. There are many roles that I play in life, and the list of things I want to do with my life is constantly being edited. I embrace it all, which is why I can say with confidence:
I am not a musician. I am a human being.